Wolves at Rockets
7:00 pm CST
The Wolves will play the Rockets for the first time this season tonight as they begin a two game road trip in Houston. Overall, the Rockets have been very disappointing so far, coming in at 20-19 and 7th in the West following a 56-26 record and a trip to the Western Conference Finals last year. They feature a negative point differential this season thanks to a subpar defense.
They are, however, riding a four game win streak, which includes a home-and-away sweep of the Jazz, as well as wins over the Pacers and Grizzlies, so it's possible they are finding their footing.
The Rockets continue to play as they have over the last several years: They play fast (7th in pace), and lead the league in both 3PA and FTA as they concentrate on 3s and shots at the rim almost the exclusion of everything else. James Harden continues to be one of the top scorers in the league, and is especially effective at getting to the line, where he attempts over 10 free throws a game. Forcing him to actually make reasonably contested shots without fouling will be a huge task for the Wolves.
Harden is the fulcrum of their offense, not only scoring 28 a night but also leading the team in assists. Much of what they do begins with a Harden dribble drive either one-on-one or in a pick and roll situation. That leads to either Harden getting to the rim or fouled, or a dish to the roll man (often Dwight Howard or Clint Capela) or a kick out to one of any number of guys (Beverly, Ariza, Brewer, Thornton, Terry) who are not afraid to let it fly from behind the arc. It's a fairly simple approach but it works. Once Harden turns the corner, the defense is scrambling to keep up, and the Rockets can usually find an open shot somewhere they want one.
On the downside, they tend to turn the ball over a lot due to trying complicated passes and moves instead of keeping it simple, and the Wolves must take advantage of that. They likely do not want to get into a running game with the Rockets, but if they don't force turnovers, they aren't going to get enough stops to have a chance to win.
Meanwhile, the Rockets have really struggled defensively this season, giving up the 4th highest opponents' eFG% in the league as well as the 3rd highest offensive rebound%. Unfortunately, a lot of what they give up is the open three, something the Wolves are not generally equipped to take big advantage of. Still, they can be scored on, and the Wolves need to make shots. They should be able to take advantage of Rubio in pick and roll situations, as well as getting on the offensive glass.
Kevin Garnett is unlikely to play tonight on the 2nd night of a back to back, but Nikola Pekovic should be available again. This should open up minutes for Nemanja Bjelica at the four, where he can hopefully build on the last couple of games where he seems to be playing better. Look for Gorgui Dieng to start in place of Garnett, with Pek and Bjelica as the back up bigs tonight.
Our blogging buddies are over at The Dream Shake. Be excellent.
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Enjoy. Chat. Go.